The traditional freshman rite, designed to create cohesion among students, has come under fire for racist and degrading impersonations of other cultures. In the words of a critic and former graduate: “White people cannot decide when something is racist.”
The department of political science at the University of Copenhagen has cancelled its long-standing political dress-up game over accusations of racism and derogatory representations of nations and ethnic groups, Danish Radio reported.
In what is called “the country game”, freshmen would split into teams, put on clothing evocative of designated countries and behave accordingly to make a stereotypical impression.
In one instance three years ago, students wearing traditional Arabic white robes chorused that they wished they were from France because then they would have a lot of money and their children would live longer.
On another occasion, a group of students asked to dress up as Chinese called their team “S***ty China”.
In yet another case, a group of students asked to represent Thais dressed up as ladyboys and sang songs about Thai women being for sale.
However, some team options were banned altogether, out of fear they may generate racist or anti-Semitic jokes. According to graduate Flavio Saleh, this proves that the entire game should have been banned a long time ago.
“It’s a Danish thing. We think we are so tolerant and open, but in our eagerness to be funny, we cannot see that we can also be a little racist,” Saleh said. “White people cannot decide when something is racist. It’s about not making fun of someone based on their skin colour, gender or class,” he added.
Others, however, such as fellow graduate Thomas Rohden, defended the game as a traditional rite of passage that helps create cohesion between the students and underscored that the ban was the result of complaints made by a “very, very small, yet loud-mouthed group”.
“The question is whether just one complaint should be the basis for eradicating a concept that is incredibly popular, which I believe is really good for creating a unity across the political science department – among students and across generations, as we have all been part of the same ritual,” Rohden said, recalling “getting a big laugh out if it”.
However, due to the complaints of “degrading representations”, the authorities decided to make the would-be political scientists abandon their ways.
“Based on feedback, we have found that the country game doesn’t seem to be the intended place for everyone. And so we must find new ways to create this important community. Everyone must have a safe and good start,” head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen, Nina Grænger, told Danish Radio.
However, the faculty failed to engage the students in the decision to abolish the country game, which is a problem, according to both the the Student Council at the University of Copenhagen and Flavio Saleh.
“I think it is a polarising factor that the faculty made its decision over the heads of the students. People will go into their own trenches, and it becomes such a Facebook debate, where you do not get the nuances, but where people are just super angry about the decision,” Saleh concluded.
Founded in 1479, the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) one of the oldest in Scandinavia, and ranks as one of the top universities in the Nordic countries and Europe. With its 5,000 researchers and 37,500 students, it describes itself as “driven by intellectual creativity and critical thinking”.